Q: How should I handle a customer who complains that they got sick from a meal they ate at my restaurant, and how do I know if it was even my food that made them sick?
A: It may not be. Always treat the customer with respect, and gather as much information as you can, including their name and phone number, types of foods that they ate, date of the meal and the date that they got sick. If 2 or more unrelated persons experienced the same symptoms after eating the same foods, it would be considered an outbreak. If the local health department receives complaints of an outbreak nature, they will most likely do an investigation to identify the cause and any information you collected could be helpful. Keep in mind that it often takes time for symptoms to develop in case of an infection – this person’s illness might be from something that was eaten days earlier at a different establishment or even at home.
Q: I work at an assisted living community in the dietary department, and have been told that we are never to send food with bones to the Alzheimer’s wing. Is it dangerous to feed a memory impaired patient food with bones in it (fried chicken or pork chop)?
A: The reason for not recommending bone-in foods for memory-impaired patients is probably the risk of a physical contaminant (small piece or sliver of bone) getting in the food. This could be a choking hazard. Also, a bone-in food is also more difficult to eat for such persons (maneuvering around the bone) rather than a boneless food which may easier to cut and eat, less frustrating, and therefore more satisfying for the patient.
Q: This afternoon I bought a 5 pound box of chicken nuggets . I bought them at 5:20 and at 8:30 discovered that they were sitting on the counter in my kitchen. My son had carried them in for me and forgot to put them in the freezer. When I discovered them I put them in the freezer immediately but am a bit worried about eating them. They say they are pre-cooked. When I had found them on the counter they seemed thawed but still cold. I hate to throw away such a large package of food. Do you think they will be safe to eat if I cook them thoroughly?
A: It all goes back to the 4 hour rule: foods such as chicken nuggets should not sit out at room temperature for longer than 4 hours total. So if they were colder than 41 degrees F when your son carried them into the house ( sounds like they were frozen) and they sat out at room temperature for 3 hours, they would be safe as long as you froze them immediately, and cook them soon after you remove from the freezer. Do not remove to thaw at room temperature, but cook from the frozen state. And Remember cook all poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 F for 15 seconds, to be sure they are thoroughly cooked.
Q: At a church where I work part-time, people make sack lunches to feed the homeless. When they think it is cold enough, they put the sandwiches in an elevator that is on the outside of the building, and is not heated. A few times I have been concerned that it was not cold enough to be refrigerating the food this way. At what temperature can you safely refrigerate food outside?
A: The internal temperature of the food should be at 41 degrees F or lower, to be safe from bacteria growth.